Reverence Not Testing The Waldorf Way

Inner experiences is the only key to the beauties of the outer world.
— Rudolf Steiner, How to Know Higher Worlds

Reverence is the path to knowing a child’s needs.

Every morning, I choose a book to read. Sometimes it is a few lines and others a chapter. The last several mornings I have been reading How to Know Higher Worlds by Rudolf Steiner. A meditative path charted by Rudolf Steiner, translated by SteinerBooks.

I find that being a lifelong student, we can discover new ways to our inner life, our inner knowing that can only be seen when our biography is ready for it. I am a student of the natural world which at its root is reverence.

The beginning of any connection in nature begins with reverence for a natural space. It is this practice of reverence that pulls back the doubt and allows you to seek a connection to the universe. A connection that will lead to surrendering beyond the noise of the outer world, and into an abundant inner life, a path that leads to your original knowing.

In education, we have people trying to improve education by measurement, testing, and analysis. The flaw with this method is that it does not involve reverence. The process of observing a classroom, a child, a family, a teacher, and ourselves must be an exercise in reverence to be pure observation. We must be able to observe without judgment and assess without fault if we want to improve the education years for children, their parents, and our communities.

Reverence with our own thoughts is the way to begin.

This consists in our learning to surrender ourselves less and less to the impressions of the outer world and develop instead an active inner life
— Rudolf Steiner, How to Know Higher Worlds

What does that mean for education and the work of our schools, parents, and teachers? When we revere something or someone we want to take care of it, nurture it, and help it grow. The beauty of the principle that underlies a Waldorf education is based in reverence or admiration for human development.

The preparation for teaching in a revered sense requires devotion to a practice that deepens the experience for both the teacher and their class. It is a practice rooted in the understanding of human development and how we teach and guide effects the development of the children in our classrooms.

A recent study by the nonprofit advocacy and consulting group TNTP concluded “ “Students spend most of their time in school without access to four key resources: grade-appropriate assignments, strong instruction, deep engagement, and teachers who hold high expectations,” the report says.

As teachers of children, we have the unique opportunity to observe children. We are able to surrender ourselves to the experiences in front of us by being open to what we can learn from them about what they need versus what they need to learn from us. We can observe without judgment, and watch in awe as the answers unfold in front of us.

Teachers need resources to create lessons based on developmental stages, and those resources need to penetrate deep into the curiosity and wonder of the children in their classes. This does not stop in early childhood, it is the foundation of all teaching and learning. Profound, engaging teaching and learning ignite a love of learning.

Teachers in today's classrooms need resources that spark interest in them and their students. The standardized curriculum that supports testing will never create that type of excitement and yearning.

Do you need resources to learn to teach in this experiential way? If you are new to the idea of teaching in an evolving curriculum that mirrors your student's needs, the following books will help you understand the real beauty and strength of this type of education.

Teacher Development Resources

Towards Creative Teaching, Notes to an Evolving Curriculum for Steiner Waldorf Class Teachers

Writing to Reading the Steiner Waldorf Way, Foundations of Creative Literacy

Teaching Resources

Science Through Stories

History Through Stories

A Journey Through Time in Verse and Rhyme

Autumn: A Collection of Poems, Songs, and Stories for Young Children

Creative Form Drawing with Children Aged 6-10 Years

Special Education Resources

The Extra Lesson

Autism: Meet Me Who I Am

Need more resources? Visit our online bookstore at SteinerBooks.org or contact Kathy@steinerbooks.org.

Gift of Life by Christopher Bamford

IN THE PRESENCE OF DEATH; THE GIFT OF LIFE

By Christopher Bamford

For Tadea Dufault Bamford

(1947-1996)

Rose, o pure contradiction, to be no one’s sleep

under so many lids.
— Rainer Maria Rilke

It is a delicate task to broach a theme so close to the essential unknowingness we are that it seems to forbid all conceptual certainty and discount all speculation as idle and arising from questionable motives. All I can offer is whatever experience I have been able to distil. Therefore I shall try to speak personally, with as much intimacy and openness as I can muster. Rather than lay out a philosophy, I want to bear witness to a personal encounter with death, one that led me on a path toward reimagining life. The picture I shall paint is drawn from living memory, painful to recall and individual in character, but indicative I hope of a mood or atmosphere in which the change of being called for by the wholeness, the unity, life and death becomes apparent. The work is still in progress. What I have to say should be heard only as a progress report, a provisional account of my own still faltering, rudimentary attempt to reimagine death in the light of daily life lived in its presence.

Two years ago, I was granted the gift of accompanying my wife Tadea over the threshold. It was not the first death at which I was privileged to be present, but it was the first that I attended with the fullness of my being. It was an experience I shall never regret, a grace for which I am grateful. Psychologically, physically even, the personal loss, the pain, the grief, the disorientation remain—to be lived through, transformed, never to be forgotten. Not to be gotten over, certainly, but to be understood, illuminated, and gathered up in the greater light of the gift that came with them. The gift and the disorientation came together. It is not possible for me to imagine them apart. Both remain. I cannot say I have brought them together, but I have come to understand that life is praise and lamentation, and that these two are very close, perhaps one—and that they are transformative. Despite the almost constant sadness, confusion, daily setbacks, self-pity, and other burdens of ordinary egotism, I feel the wound, the opening, and sometimes the joy, the certainty of knowing that meaning exists, even if I am not yet able to cognize it fully.

Sergius Bulgakov, the Russian Orthodox priest and sophiologist, tells of a near-death experience in which he beheld two figures of light and recognized that they accompany each one of us through life. On one side, the Crucified One; on the other, radiant, serene, golden with light, the Risen One. These two figures frame the reimagination of death I am trying to live.

But it is with the gift that I wish to begin.

Tadea died very quickly—about six months from diagnosis to passing, about a month from when medicine gave up to when she died.

During that last month, I was with her about twenty-three hours out of every twenty-four. Tadea, or perhaps I should say death, “Brother Death” as St. Francis calls it, was my teacher. She sat very quietly, very consciously, with a certain peace and patience. She resisted nothing. The day consisted mostly in attending to the details of her care. Mostly she couldn’t eat, but she was always willing to try, knowing that was important to us. She had to be moved fairly regularly, an enormous bank of fifteen or so pillows constantly rearranged so that her posture and seat were slightly different. There were periodic bouts of vomiting, mostly bile, and some indescribably clear fluid. People visited and the ones who stayed mostly sat with her in silence. While she could, she knitted, and read a little. But soon that made very little sense, so she just sat, communing with whomever was with her, reassuring us in some way that all would be well. In the beginning she had been afraid of dying, while at the same time strangely realizing that it was something she could do. But everyone around her thought only of healing and life. There was really no one she could talk to about dying. All of us with her would hear nothing of it: we wanted only positive thinking. So she went on that inner journey by herself. And, by this time, she knew she was dying, while the rest of us still prayed for healing. So she just sat quietly, waiting for us to understand that all was as it should be.

Looking back, what seems most significant is the transformation that occurred in the experience of time. Everything slowed down, expanded, became qualitative, rather than quantitative. Those weeks seem like an eternity which I still inhabit. Each day stretched out until it became like a whole life; and within that life the full presence of every moment was itself like a day—a summer day with its flora and fauna, night stars and day stars, its sunrise and early morning, mid-morning and noontime, its long afternoons, evenings, and nights.

In a word, with its routines and rituals, its different kinds of silences, the time surrounding her passing became rhythm. Not in any mechanical way, but in the most alive way imaginable. Time became like a set of Chinese boxes, in which each moment, each movement, contained others within others, like a fugue within a fugue, so that I thought if I could but unpack one it would contain all.

To some extent, too, life took on the atmosphere of a dream or a memory. Daily reality ceased to be linear and became more like a field within which relations, connections, emerged and then disappeared, often several simultaneously. In that sense, time became space-like. Or rather, the experiences of time and space became so closely united that one could not separate them. Time became spatial, extended, volumetric, dense, while space, that is, the sickroom and the phenomena within it (the icons and flowers, the minerals and crystals, the vomit pail and the piles of papers and books and medicines, as well as the ever-changing light and air, the sounds and almost symphonic silences, filled with insects, breezes, and scents) became temporal, a rhythmic dance.

As in a dream, a great deal was happening continuously but instantaneously—as it were in the twinkling of an eye—within a context of changelessness. Huge meanings were palpable, but not graspable by the conscious mind. And as in a dream, I acted without reflection, without questioning. I found myself “living without a why”—repeating the same small tasks and gestures that a bedridden patient requires, always the same, always different. It was a life without discursive thought. As in a dream, too, it was difficult to concentrate, to focus in the usual way.And yet I found I gave my whole being, not just a part, to whatever activity was at hand.

To use another metaphor, time, each moment, became a gift, a grace. It was as if all rested in God’s hands. Everything was given over and became gift. I no longer experienced the movement of time, the current of life, as horizontal—as having a before and after, a past and a future, the one in some sense behind, pushing, and the other ahead, approaching—but as vertical. Each moment came as a miraculous opportunity. A gift that was realized, received, in the giving back. Because of this, the room was filled with a sense of sacrifice and also with gratitude and wonder: gratitude for every perception, every moment; wonder at the enormity of life, its unbelievable, perpetual abundance, and at death’s being a part of it.

Probably sensing this, Tadea would not tolerate any negative feelings in the room. Nor any overly discursive or philosophical conversation. No sermons, please, she said. No sad faces. No resistance. No pretence, no disguise. It seemed she wanted only the truth that we are, the reality of the moment. Around her, only praise or affirmation seemed appropriate.

Indeed, permeating everything and implicit everywhere was an atmosphere of devotion and prayer, praise and service. Every day unfolded almost as a liturgy. So time also became liturgical, the enactment of a divine service in which not just I and the others around me participated but the whole universe, with enormous love and reverence. None of this was heavy. It was nothing formal or organized. It was magically light, in fact, as if somewhere musicians with an extraordinary touch were playing through us and the world and thereby raising the hard materiality of the world into a song of praise. Holy! Holy! Holy!

When life is lived in the continuous presence of death, which is the presence of God, it is as if every moment becomes an offering, a communication, received from and given to the spiritual world—by which I mean the greater life of heaven whose entrance, though everywhere, is most obvious in death, which raises the life that is death into the reality of higher life.

Here, again, at the deathbed, time seems to become space, a journey to a destination that in one sense we never reach, and in another sense have already arrived at. So the repetitions, and the daily re-beginnings—of actual prayers and visualizations and of the simplest tasks relating to bodily function and psychic well-being—at once overcome the distance and reaffirm it, endlessly postponing the end.

Until the end comes or seems to, or ought to, but doesn’t. I mean that death when it comes to a loved one is much more not an end, than it is an end. Like the prayers and tasks, the repetitions and stammerings that preceded it, death, when it comes, seems only to open to greater fullness of life, however painful.

Three days before it came, we knew.

The day before we knew had been extraordinary. Previously, Tadea had been vomiting for hours—pitch black bile like tar. But, that morning, she woke up bright and cheerful. We had been attending the little Catholic Church at the bottom of the hill—the Eucharist especially had meant a great deal to her. But recently Tadea had realized that she had never even been baptized. She thought it time to take the step. So, this last morning before we knew should die the priest came and baptized and confirmed her in Christ. Friends and family stood around the bed. Tadea sat straight up, wide awake, smiling, winking at members of the audience when appropriate.

Next day, I stopped the little rituals that had to do with physical healing. Otherwise, outwardly all continued as before. Though her body was ravaged and wasted—she weighed less than eighty pounds—she still sat there patient and awake. And yet already everything was different. There was an awesome and still beauty about everything. Her physical body was there, now weakened almost to the extinction of her life in it. It was about to return to nature, bearing the marks of suffering, to carry into the earth the inscription of so much experience, of so many trials, mistakes, joys, disappointments, of moments of crystal clear penetrating consciousness as well as so much lived beneath the surface in the dark valleys and hidden places of a soul’s journey. But though she still sat with the tablet of her body, her presence now filled the room. Or rather, presence filled the room. Presences. The room became quieter, the silences more intense and filled with reality. There was a heightened sense of being, an exceptional clarity of perception, an interiority to space and silence I had not suspected before.

Looking back, I would say that I felt for the first time the perspective of heaven. And this changed the meaning of everything. Prayers, for instance, became much less personal. As I said the Lord’s Prayer, holding Tadea’s hand, I could feel that I was not saying it for myself, by myself, or for us alone, but that a vast chorus of beings, stretching to infinity and back again, was joining with us in a much greater cause than whatever personal desire I might subjectively have. It was now clear that the healing visualization we had been doing—imagining the golden stream of the spirit showering down and washing away all impurity— had to do with purification in a much larger sense than physical healing. One could feel beings gather.

Tadea died at 11 a.m. on a Sunday morning, surrounded by her brother, her three daughters, and myself. That morning, we washed her face with Kiehl’s lotion and freshened her cheeks with rose water. We brushed her teeth. She rinsed her mouth out herself, holding the glass in both hands.We combed her hair. The sun flooded in through the windows, rich and golden like wine.

She sat up very serene and straight. Her eyes were closed, and a smile played on her lips. For three days, she had been unable to lie down for fear of vomiting. She was uncomfortable, mostly from lying in bed for a month, and she was physically weak from lack of food and because she was already leaving her body, but she was in no pain and was taking no medication, except for a blood thinner.

At about 9:30, she suddenly raised her voice, as if to someone leaving the room, and said, almost sang, “‘Bye!” “Who’s leaving?” I asked. “I mean a generic good-bye,” she said.

We sat around her on the bed. “I could guzzle the ocean,” she said, enjoying the thought. Again, she seemed to smile. Then she said, “Its too bright, I can’t see.” Thinking that she was referring to the morning sun pouring through the windows, we pinned blankets over the windows, slowing the liquid golden flow to a trickle. “Its not cooperating...,” she muttered. Soon, it must have been: she smiled again.

Just before eleven, she asked to be put on the commode. She felt herself leaving. I lifted her onto it. Her face was very pale, bloodless, like marble. She could no longer hold up her head. I supported her as she did her business and then clumsily lifted her back onto the bed. She tottered slightly, then steadied herself, smiling, perhaps at us, but it seemed more likely at some inner experience of her own. Finally, she opened her eyes unnaturally wide and leaned forward ever so slightly as if entering into whatever it was that she was seeing.Then she was gone: no longer a sensible being in the sensible world. Her breath continued for a few moments. Then ceased. Time, which had been slowing down all through the last weeks, stopped. I thought of St. Therese realizing there was no time in heaven. The heavens opened and time ceased.Tadea’s journey in an earthly body was over. Physically, she was gone. Grief became the rupture between heaven and earth.

But the liturgy continued, life continued, on both planes. Her body, though it was only her body, had served nobly in the service of her life and was a sacred, numinous thing, to be handled and regarded with awe and reverence. The children bathed, oiled, and washed her with tenderness and love. The house was filled with people. There was an enormous sense of stasis, of in-betweenness, liminality. It was as if, like her, the space we occupied lay between worlds, not yet there, no longer completely here. Unaccustomed to the concrete reality of the spirit, of the living experience of what had before been just the philosophical problem of two worlds, we moved around in an air of trance.

Time was thick with memory—memories bursting with life that poured endlessly from the abyss of loss each person felt. Everyone was moving around absorbed in individual thoughts of her, all of these forming a dense knot that as it were recapitulated her life. Tadea’s presence was extraordinarily strong. She seemed gone, but not away. For the moment, lost from this world, but safe in another. What was the way back? How to join the two worlds?

The undertaker came and took her away to pump out the fluids. Forty minutes later, she was back. We dressed her, carried her downstairs, and laid her in her in a plain pine box in the living room. For three nights, she lay there, someone always with her. The fourth, she lay in the ground.

The experience of her death intensified. The gift—or, I should say, the giving, for it was an ongoing process, always changing, always transforming—never stopped. It was a continuous initiation, one not yet over. I understand now that it is the initiation of life itself. It is as if only death reveals the meaning of life. As if in death the whole of life—its task, its meaning, its fruit, above all, its mystery—is laid bare. But that is to run ahead of myself. Whatever little understanding I may have has come slowly, accompanied by inner tumult and confusion, tears, pain, and much foolishness. I am still in the midst of it all.

Right at the beginning, within days of her passing, I was given some little talismanic gifts, which I think helped me immeasurably to engage the process of what was to come. First—and this is so obvious, but it came with a startling newness—I realized that her life, that each person’s life, is a spiritual journey. I do not know whether it was she or death who taught me, but the lesson I learned was that life was not about getting or doing, but about creating virtues in one’s soul. I understood, seeing her life unfold before me, as it must have unfolded before her, that what she had sought all her life—through all the messiness, confusion, and struggle of a human life—were certain spiritual aptitudes or faculties. In her case, freedom, trust, spontaneity, the courage to lead from the heart, openness to the joyful intimacy of the present moment—and, above all, perhaps, the virtue of “peace.” And that, in a sense, dying was a step on that path, a momentous step perhaps, but the right step for her, at that moment the ripe fruit of her life. Realizing this, I suddenly felt enormous gratitude for having been permitted to be part of her journey. This gratitude filled me entirely. I felt enormous gratefulness for having known her and having been part of her life. And this feeling, opening me right up, spread to everything. Love of God and all God’s creation. I encountered every soul, every being, every living thing with the mantra “What do you seek in me? What can I give you?” And I realized how close gratitude is to praise, to sheer affirmation, as a fundamental gesture. And how close praise is to love, for, as the Troubadours knew, through praise the lover lays down self and becomes one with the beloved.

 At the same time, I was also confronted with the abyss of all my shortcoming in our life together, all the ways great and small in which I had let Tadea down. I knew that to dwell on these would have been catastrophic. But I was given the gift of recognizing that the way across the abyss of guilt lay in reconciliation or confession and forgiveness. For days, then, I moved through the house, reliving her life and our life together, as she must have been doing where she was. Filled with gratitude, I distilled all that I had learned from her into lessons that I would now take into my life. At the same time, I was overwhelmed again and again with compunction at my weaknesses, falls, and blindnesses. And I realized, painfully, that there was nothing to be done, but to seek forgiveness, to forgive and, through the process of forgiveness, find forgiveness. And forgiveness was granted, coming over me slowly like a fine rain over many weeks. Finally, release came, and a new task, when I stood at her grave, and heard her say, clearly, “Now, make a new life.” Easier said than done.

Looking back—and perhaps this is true of all initiations—I found myself plunged in the midst of paradoxes. It was as if death itself, and the fact of death, anyone’s death, one’s own certainly, and especially the death of a loved one, illuminated the fundamental paradox of life. Immediately, on first encounter, this paradox took three basic forms: three related, but separate struggles I had to pass through.

First, Tadea was away, but she was not gone. Nor was her journey finished. It continued, wherever she was, and that made “wherever she was” a human place, as human as earth, for I knew that she had not left herself behind when she left, but had taken all that she was with her, that she was not one whit less who she was where she was now than she had been when among us. Indeed, I suspected she was more herself, truer to herself, there. All this meant that not only was heaven a human place but that life, her story, was endless; that all our stories are endless. And that to understand the meaning of an endless story—mine, hers or yours—would require a new way of being in the world. And a new way of listening, an endless listening. For we are not used to stories that have no end. We know neither how to live them nor how to tell them nor how to listen to them.

Her presence was so powerful that I could not believe that she was gone. She was here, but not here. She was dead, but she was alive, she was living. That both were true, I knew with absolute certainty. I opened every closet, I ferreted through drawers, I wandered from room to room looking for her. I expected her to appear at every moment. I couldn’t believe she would not come back. That I wouldn’t find her standing where she ought to be standing, doing what she ought to be doing. On the other hand, I talked to her constantly, knowing that she was where she was, not here, and that she would not return to visibility, to the sense world. And I knew that she heard what I was saying and thinking and feeling, for sometimes she would respond in clear and distinct ways. I also understood that my relationship to her was changing, becoming different from what I had experienced while she was on earth. So many people mourned her passing, and each one had his or her own experiences. I recognized then that the dead belong to everyone—that they have a relationship to all the living and that they are “big” enough where they are so that each of these relationships could be unique and intimate. At other times, too, I understood how the dead participate in our lives, in the life of earth, that they never leave the earth, as it were, or lose their love for it, as Christ likewise is with us to the end of time.

The more I lived, then, with this paradox of “gone but not away,” the more it began to resolve itself for me into another that I called, felt, thought of, and lived, as the paradox of heaven and earth. I also thought of it as the Great Life and the lesser life. Joa Bolendas, the Swiss mystic and visionary, had relayed a message to me from Tadea. Joa had received it from her dead brother, Wilhelm. He had seen Tadea and heard her saying as she looked toward the earth, “Love me, and live with me in the great life.” But what was the relationship between life on earth and the Great Life? Was the Great Life present on earth, if only we could live in it? Or was it present always? Death opened this paradox for me, and the more I lived with death, with the reality of death as a part of life, as present in life at every moment, as its depth, the more the question for me became one of heaven and earth, invisible and visible, and how to integrate, or even unite, these. I realized that if I were to shut death out of life, pushing it into a realm of impossibility, then I would allow death as the absolute limit and negation of life to define life, and so sever heaven and Tadea forever from earth and me.

Both heaven and earth were now powerful realities for me. I had been given a visualization, which as I practiced and adapted it, brought me as it were imaginally into heaven. In this imagination, Tadea and I are floating down a river of liquid light. I am floating head first, face down. She turns me over to face the blue sky. She turns me round, so I float feet first. But I am in a numbed, comatose state. She wakes me up. I awake as if emerging from a dark tunnel. I see where I am. We float into a quiet pool, play for a while in the water, and then clamber out, and walk through a light-filled desert-like landscape, where we meet Mary and Jesus, and kneel before them in prayer. As I say, this imagination brought me imaginally into heaven, and united me with beings present there, but at the same time it strangely kept heaven and earth apart, as separate realities.

This disjuncture, the rupture—which I came to understand was the teaching of grief—focussed with exceptional clarity and penetration the third form of the existential paradox Tadea’s death posed for me. This was the paradox of old life/new life. Certainly, it was the hardest thing to realize that Tadea was never coming back. But did that mean that, if I wanted to remain close to her, I had to be where she was? And if it did, how could I be there and here. For equally certainly I had to be here: here was where my new life would be made, would come. I had to continue to grow and change. I was unwilling to accept that I had to make a choice: there or here. Live here, forget there; live there, forget here. I refused to chose. There had to be a third way, a middle way—a paradoxical place where one could be a being of light and an embodied, passionate, volatile, struggling earthy human with a life to live in the human world of earth in the twilight of the twentieth century.

Thus the journey continued, both the same and different. Many of the experiences that I had come to know during Tadea’s dying remained and even intensified. But at the same time I felt myself, split into three: as if my journey took place in three worlds, and it was my task somehow to make them one. There was the world of what I called Heaven, or the Great Life, with which I sought to stay in constant contact—through prayer and loving thoughts, and through the awareness that heaven surrounds us at all times and may speak to us in many different, subtle ways. Internally, I experienced intimations that thoughts and feelings and will impulses were prompted and sometimes finished not by me, but from somewhere else. And externally, in nature and in situations as humdrum as driving I recognized signs that I was thought of. There was almost a kind of reciprocity in this—as if my awareness of heaven was simultaneously heaven’s awareness of me. Very few of these intimations, however, were overt or startling, and when these came they came so quickly that mostly I was left with just the startle, the content gone, as when one awakens from a dream one knows occurred but cannot remember. Mostly, it was just a feeling, a sense of presence, a conviction, even, of heaven’s hiddenness within our world. I knew it was there, even if it did not reveal itself. It was as if death had revealed the hiddenness of life and was at the same time itself that hiddenness. So, while living with heaven’s presence, I also lived with its hiddenness.

And, all the while, constantly, overwhelming all my efforts to make sense of all this, waves of loss came hard and heavy, when least expected. Loss, too, became a world, a journey. In that place. At first, the absence of Tadea’s was hallucinatorily strong. There was a feeling of dismemberment. Of an abyss. My conscious mind kept repeating, “I can’t believe it. It’s impossible.” I had suffered loss before—in childhood and in divorce. But this was different. It forbade any illusions and would not allow itself to be rationalized. It simply was and is—a great truth. And yet, gradually, what felt for months both like an amputation that had severed an organ of my being and like an oppressive, amorphous, tangled, congested cloak of darkness and unknowing, clarified. The part that was made up of my own anger, my sense of betrayal and abandonment, my survivor’s guilt, and my fear of the unknown, slowly dropped away. The wound, the gap, the abyss remained, however. I still had no sense of where to go, what to do, and why. “Living without a why” no longer worked. And yet, around the edges, I began to recognize that this feeling of loss and disorientation—that death itself, for the living—could also be a threshold, a bridge to new experience. Indeed, I came to think that death is “threshold” itself, and that, insofar as I am able to not separate it from life, life itself becomes the threshold experience it seeks to be, forever and abundantly opening into newness.

And at the same time, like the stranger at one’s table, the third paradox came home to roost. There was my actual new world, my new life. That I would have to make, but how? I felt like a newborn child. Nothing from my old life worked anymore. The habits, the routines, all my old ways seemed dead, like a dead man’s clothes. I did not want to wear a dead man’s clothes. And besides, they no longer fit. I wondered desperately how you make a world. I kept trying. Inventing transitional objects as an infant does when making its world. Useless, of course, both the trying and the desperation. I realized that I could not make a new life with my thick head. That I would have to learn a new kind of patience and openness. I am still trying.

And so I began to live in what I learned to call “the middle voice.” This is a grammatical category in ancient Indo-European languages used to denote the action of verbs that are neither active nor passive, but, as it were, both at the same time—as, for instance, when what is received is what is given: the gift as both what we give and what we receive. In ancient times, this grammatical voice was used to express the mediation the divine in human action in ritual and liturgy. But as I lived into the experience of death and tried to hold death and life, heaven and earth, together in a single gesture, it came to have a more universal application. For I came to understand that the dead, and so the whole invisible world, are always with us, seeking to participate in all we do and all that is done on earth and that all our actions ask to be mediated, shared, by them.

I came to realize, too, the deeper meaning of what Rudolf Steiner meant when he said that humanity is the “religion” of the gods (as the “gods” are the source of our religion). He meant that the earth herself as we experience it with all our senses, faculties, feelings and so on, is the religion of the gods. I understood then that the beings of heaven, including the dead, look to our experience to allow them to participate in heaven in their “religion of the earth” and that thereby everything that takes place on earth takes place in heaven as well. So we are all called to be priests offering the liturgy of our experience to the spiritual world, thereby allowing it to participate, on its side, in its liturgy of service to the same evolution of the cosmos and the divine.

In other words, seeking to be true to the unity of life and death, heaven and earth, seeking an integrated duality, a cooperating polarity, gave life a sacramental quality. And I realized, too, that from the point of view of heaven only selfless experiences (actions, feelings, thoughts), or experiences offered up, even ever so slightly, so that they are somehow not for oneself alone but for the world, have value—that to the angels and the dead, experiences that are really only self-feeling, wholly closed in on themselves, are infinitely saddening, because they exclude heaven.

None of this, of course, came all at once; nor easily; nor was nearly as heavy as it sounds.

It was a sort of alchemical journey—separating the fixed from the volatile, the spirit from the body, and then reuniting them. In the first weeks, I lived, in a sense, more in heaven than on earth. It was as if I had actually passed over the threshold. My earthly part had to struggle to keep up. Things were certainly happening around me, destiny continued to mold and call me—after all, I lived my life on earth—but events on earth took a considerable time to filter through, or rather I did not realize what was going on, what new sequences of events were precipitating, until I came back over the threshold—crashed, as it were, and the world fell apart.

During those weeks before the crash, as if in a dream, the supersensible reality of the deathbed vigil continued—the changed sense of time, the sense of the world as liturgy, the feeling of gratitude and gift in every moment. Insights, too, kept coming, who knows from where, to help me perhaps, disconnected, but part of a whole. The first was the realization, focussed by death, that all of creation participates in every moment. At church one Sunday, celebrating the Eucharist, I recognized that just as all humanity (and thereby also the earth herself) was present and invoked and united in the sacrificial breaking of the bread, so too all the dead (and all the angels and spirits) were also present—that in some sense all humanity, whether embodied in heaven or on earth, is united, a single being. The sense of interconnection, of kinship, of solidarity, was overwhelming. I had a real sense that all are members of one body, speakers in a single conversation, and I understood that while living with death as the end of life has perhaps helped us evolve our individuality, it has also set us one against the other and promulgated the Darwinian world of each against all. It now seemed the reality was quite different. Life was without end. Therefore, every human being was connected to and responsible for every other. There was nothing of which I knew of which I could say: “That’s not my responsibility.”

At the simplest and the deepest level, this came down to the love of God and the love of every individual soul I met. I vowed to serve God and to serve every soul. To carry these in my heart and to rejoice in them for their own sake. I understood, too, the subtlety and gentleness this requires.

In fact, it seemed everything now taught and demanded subtlety and gentleness—a kind of delicate, watchful patience and the ability to wait, without expectation, but with open heart and mind. Strangely, I experienced this above all in nature. It was as if all my senses came alive in a new way. I had never experienced the rhythms, the colors, the diversity, the infinite richness of life so powerfully. I became aware of a vast current of life pulsing fecund and abundant through the world. Birds particularly took on a heraldic role. I had never noticed so many or, perceptually, entered into so intimate a relationship with them. They seemed the very embodiment of life between and uniting worlds. I could not speak the language of the birds, but I could understand why angels are always depicted with wings. And somehow this current of life was related to the transformed sense of time, where time became space, and unfolded not in lines, but in intricate, interwoven rhythms. Standing transfixed before nature— before a tree or a rock, or watching a bird, or the proliferation of weeds and herbs in an overgrown, unheeded corner—I had a profound sense of movement in place, of this current of life or time as a vortex opening vertically, uniting all worlds. And at each point, at each rhythmic vortex, I could sense the participation of heaven in earth. Perhaps it was my imagination that the early morning fog, coiling and trailing over the landscape, dense and white, was somehow fructifying the vegetation in ways undreamed of by botanists. Perhaps it was my imagination, too, that the dead likewise care for and love the earth as if it were their garden and rejoice in and in some strange way share in my perceptions.

Nor was this sense of the rhythmic vortex of time, in which all heaven sought to participate, limited to single perceptions of individual things. It also contained them all. So that the seasons, too, and the great round of the year, came alive for me in a new way and became a palpable, living whole, participated in by the gift of death.

On my side, no matter how great my disorientation, pain, and confusion, I was and remain filled with gratitude and, what is so close to it, praise. In heaven, says Elizabeth of the Trinity, each soul is a praise of glory. Each soul there, praising, lives no longer its own life, but lives in love, and knows as it is known.

I made a vow to receive all that came to me as a gift and, in the middle voice, transform it, make it human, and offer it up as gift of praise to the beauty, the truth, and the goodness of existence.

Thereby, I found myself loving the world more than I ever had.

I understood then that life itself, each moment as it becomes experience, perception, feeling, cognition, is such a gift—given in the receiving, received in the giving. I knew too that this giving and receiving demands absolute trust and confidence, nothing held back, no protection, no barriers, radical openness and receptivity.

I struggled with the problem that the concept of the Great Life was of no use it did not give meaning to this life—the life of the soul and human heart, with all its brokenness, confusion, and pain. But then I realized that just as the Risen Christ is the Crucified Christ, nothing of our experience is lost or worthless in the eyes of life. That, indeed, as Julian of Norwich affirmed, “in heaven our sins will be not shame but glory to us.”

Thus my life continues, a stammering liturgy, forever seeking to bring earth into heaven, heaven into earth, and forever falling back and down into the various abysses that hold the worlds apart. Sometimes there is conversation, sometimes there is holy silence, often there is a dark pit, close to depression, sleepless nights and pointless days. Rarely, but with a sweet promise, there is song. I think of the lines of the poet Hoelderlin in “Celebration of Peace:

Much have we learned, from morning on,

Since we have been a conversation and listen to each other,

— but soon we shall be song.

 

What Makes a Great Teacher?

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A conversation with Dr. Lakshmi Prasanna about her upcoming residential retreat in Sacramento, left me wanting to understand more about a spiritual path for teachers towards thinking and knowing.

As she described her event, I was struck that it was a beginning of a journey for the participants and their teachers. It is uncomfortable, intense and freeing at the same  time. There is no prerequisite to this training other than to be open and willing, but that does not mean it will be easy. As with any transformational experience, you will feel the joy of discovery and the fatigue as well.

As I asked her to explain the process of her retreat, I felt her words with great intensity and curiosity to understand more from this great teacher. I knew it was a new level of learning, not because I had read a study or found evidence in a scientific journal, but because my intuitive mind was open enough to receive it. 

Being open is unnerving and exciting. It is also the gateway to learning.

She like many great healers, speaks on a different level, not intellectually superior, but rather spiritually higher. It is a process that allows the ideas and sensations to come to you as your sleep and digest them. You will begin to unravel them long after the conversation or class ends. You will,  as I did this morning, have moments of 'oh...that is what she meant'.

As we learn from teachers like Lakshmi, we begin to exercise our patience muscles that we had in our first years of life. It is like being born into a new awareness, and as with any birth you must have patience, heal from the process of growing and birthing, and resting after your release. It is this resting that allows you to connect with her teaching and you begin to learn. You begin to learn to connect with the spirit of your inner knowledge and your personal beliefs, your intuitive intellect. This way of knowing that is yours and yours alone.  

To become a great teacher, you must be connected with your intuitive intellect, your way of knowing the world. 

It is the only way to teach, guide, and love.

To become a great teacher, you need a great teacher.

She’s doing the work, asking the questions, and doing that heart-thinking thing I’ve been hearing so much about. Reading this was like talking with a close friend. My heart feels warmed. People who went to see her lecture said that about her: she’s just embodied love, and you feel it in the room when she’s there. Hooray for love.
— Reader Review: Autism Meet Me Who I Am -Andrew via GoodReads April 2018

It is the space of love that she brings us her work and also makes the experience of speaking to her so precious. I felt like I was able to go to my village elder and seek guidance, wisdom, and love even though I never asked for any of those things. She exudes this essence, it comes from her as she connects to you.

Dr. Lakshmi Prasanna, is a true gift to the world and her retreats are a gateway into the question, what is it to be human?' something I believe Steiner himself would consider a creative force.

You can join Dr. Lakshmi Prassana in her US based retreat in Sacramento, June 18-22, 2018. Space is limited, so sign up today. You will begin a journey to a new way of knowing to guide the children in your care. A spiritual gift of a lifetime.

Can a Waldorf Practice Help Children With Developmental Differences?

  • Are you a teacher frustrated by a lack of understanding to help the children in your classroom?
  • Are you looking for ways to bring peace and understanding to your students?
  • Are you a physician whose patients are coming to you looking for answers to help their child in school?
  • Are you a parent who starts each day trying to support your child’s special needs, while looking for ways to help them heal and overcome their challenges?

You are not alone.

As a mother with a child that exhibits developmental differences and also what some might consider gifted, I read the lectures on curative education in search of answers. The forward-thinking philosopher, Rudolf Steiner would not write about autism, sensory processing disorder, or ADHD, but he instead gave indications of ways to bring ourselves and the children we care for to a new place of understanding.

The lectures and books on Curative Education helped me find other people that were struggling with these differences in children, but I still did not have a road map. I needed a way to implement the ideas.

What is Curative Education?

In a series of twelve lectures for doctors and teachers, Rudolf Steiner spoke about a deepening of Waldorf Education that he termed Curative Education. A process of understanding normal development and the need to move beyond symptoms. Karl Konig would further expand the practice of Curative Education with his Camphill Communities with social therapy in residential settings.

In April 2018, the Centers for Disease Control issued a finding that 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. That is the children who are actually diagnosed and does not include children with the symptoms of ADHD or sensory processing disorder. This means that for every class of twenty-two students, a teacher could have as many as six children with needs for accommodation.

The majority of children in today’s schools do not need a residential program, but rather trained teachers with a special understanding of a deepened Waldorf Education Practice. A practice that can be implemented in any educational setting. A place for children with challenges and unusual gifts to grow. An empathy, sensory-based practice that leads the teacher, physician, or parent through a deeper understanding of child development and how to create a road map to move forward.

What is a Waldorf Practice? 

Dr. Lakshmi Prasanna’s twenty-year journey with autism has helped her discover practices that will help ALL children. Her recent book with Michael Kokinos, Autism: Meet Me Who I Am allows us an insider view of their journey with the children in India. Together, with Katherine G. Lehman, a veteran Waldorf Educator, literacy, and curriculum specialist, they are bringing the process of healing to education. A process they call Waldorf Practice.

“The time has come for us to put our hearts and heads together to understand what’s next for these children.” Dr. Lakshmi Prasanna

How Can a Waldorf Practice Improve Your Work with Children?

A Waldorf practice allows you to develop a deeper understanding of child development, learn ways to bring these methods into your work, and create action plans in your work with children no matter their abilities. Together we can change the future of these children and in doing so change ourselves.

Click here to register for this groundbreaking event June 18-22, 2018 in Sacramento, CA. Space is limited! Register today!

 Click on the image to register for the event.

Click on the image to register for the event.

 

Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children

Culture is nothing more or less than the way we live our lives.
— Sharifa Oppenheimer

My imagination had conjured up scenes of calm babies in beautiful clothes held by a rested, peaceful mother glowing from the miracle of birth. The reality, however, was more like exhausted parents from the rooming-in of healthy premature twins, waiting for someone to release them from a hospital of onlookers so they could get some sleep already!

I remember uttering the words, “where is the parenting manual that describes this”? A far cry from the ethereal beginning I expected, but it was not the last time that my idea of parenting differed from reality.

In Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children Sharifa Oppenheimer gives young parents the tools and ideas to create their unique family culture. An inspirational model, complete with space to write in the margins and take notes, once you have had some sleep and identify as a parent to a small human.

Rhythms

For many years, I have told our boys imagination stories. These stories rooted in my childhood memories of trips to visit family, magical creatures coming to life in the garden, or mischievous twin boys that went on fantastic adventures while their parents were busy. Later, the boys would take over the creative stories and I would move them along with a prompt of ‘and then what happened’? Our family rhythm of reading a book before bed is so well established that the kids remind us it is time to read together, and we all enjoy finding out what those Hardy Boys are up to today!

Sharifa Oppenheimer, inspired by the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, helps us see that education is a lifetime of moments, beginning with imitating the adults in their lives. It is with Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children, that we can bring back the great traditions of raising a family by teaching them who they are by how we live.

Creating a Family Culture

The family is a living breathing thing. Our daily actions teach our children how they are an essential part of our family organism. They belong to a group of people that treasure their gifts and support their challenges. It is through our family interactions they learn the intricacies of social behavior in the safety of the home environment and form the foundations of their identities. We can either do this consciously as she suggests or not, but the quality of our family culture rests on the awareness we bring to it.

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Heaven on Earth is a must have for every parent of young children. It reminds me that a wide-awake parent raises a child who has the courage to see things as they are, and can build that important relationship with their inner selves to guide them to one day create their own family culture.

You can buy Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children at SteinerBooks.org as well as the accompanying guide How to Create the Star of Your Family Culture: The Heaven on Earth Workbook.

Kids Don't Need Socialization, Kids Need Belonging

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Teaching always has been, and I hope will always remain, an intensely human endeavor. We become what we teach and we teach what we are.
— Practical Advice to Teachers, Rudolf Steiner

Across the United States families are planning summer activities and travel, but for many like me, their mind is pointed towards next fall and contemplating homeschooling their children. They search online in groups asking strangers questions and hoping to find the answer to their own very personal query.

  • Should we homeschool?
  • Can I homeschool my kids and work?
  • Can I really teach my own kids?
  • Is homeschooling better for my sensitive child?
  • Will my children have friends?
  • Will they belong?
  • Will I?

Those last questions were on my mind as I spoke to a friend a couple of weeks ago. As working mothers who direct their children’s education, we did not come to homeschooling from a calling per se, but instead because we wanted our children to be able to follow their individual needs. As we spoke about summer travel plans of camps and activities, our conversation turned to one about belonging. Before we knew it, we were asking how do we help our children find their tribe? How do we help them know they belong? How do we? Is that important?

Parents who homeschool are fiercely independent, otherwise, we would not ever consider this as an option. As women with work we love, we also feel the tug of doubt. The little voice that says 'sure they are academically strong, good humans, and creative beings' but what about community and friendships, do they belong?

We did not realize that was the question we were trying to answer, with our cooperative learning days and classes, but there it is right out in the open. How can we help our children feel a part of a community?

Next fall will be our third homeschooling year and fourth grade for our sons. I remember being a teacher and looking forward to that last day of school, but as a homeschooling parent, I am looking for guidance as the boys change and so do their educational needs for the coming year. I am also looking for a place for our family to belong.

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.
— Simone Weil

It gave me peace of mind to look forward to planning another homeschool year. School as a Journey, An Eight-Year Odyssey of a Waldorf Teacher by Torin M. Finser is a well-loved book by many Waldorf teachers, but as a parent directing our children’s education, I find that it answers many questions. We get a rare look from a Waldorf class teacher as the author shares his innermost thoughts as he too contemplates teaching from year to year. As a parent and a teacher, it inspires me into another year of watching my children grow and learn.

He talks about playing games with the children, and memories of long games of kick the can with neighborhood kids ran through my mind. That one friend at the end of my street was my first and lasting friend. All of these years later, we still check in from time to time by phone and meet for coffee when I visit my family.

In School as a Journey, Torin Finser walks you through his journey as a Waldorf class teacher, but more importantly for me, I start to see how being a Waldorf parent is a place to belong for me and my children. It allows you to see education as a meaningful path of development for your family rather than a list of things to learn. It is a community where you belong.

This first-hand account is part practical advice and inspiration from one educator to another, while he worked to provide teaching that would help children grow intellectually but also grow their inner life through creative teaching. The practice that Waldorf teacher’s stay with their class for eight years is a way to witness the inner and outer changes in human development. It also provides children with a sense of belonging.

They entered the room with greater certainty and confidence, assured of a place in the world.
— Torin M. Finser, School as a Journey

The book provides actionable suggestions with a chapter on each grade level that gives the reader an overview of the goals and content of each year. It also shares the why of the content that is missing in so many books about teaching. This book helped me dive into another season of planning while I watch the two people in the world that my husband and I love most deeply bloom, change, and discover who they are and that yes, they do belong.

School as a Journey, an Eight Year Odyssey, by Torin M. Finser, is available from Steiner Books. It is a book, you will go back to from year to year in your Waldorf homeschool journey, to find your common ground and inspire you into another year of discovery. Get your copy from Steiner Books today.

Autism: Meet Me Who I Am

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The ‘autism puzzle” is a great unsolved mystery of our times.
— Lakshmi Prasanna & Michael Kokinos

A few days ago, just outside of my hometown of Cody, WY, skeletal remains that appear to belong to an ancient mammoth were discovered by a local hiker out for a walk on a sunny spring day.

This discovery was made possible after the water levels in the Buffalo Bill Reservoir were lowered in anticipation of the snow melt. As I read Autism: Meet Me Who I Am, I wondered how many of our world's sensitive children are waiting for someone to help them pull back what hides their discovery?

I had the pleasure of learning about the work of Dr. Lakshmi Prasanna and Michael Kokinos and their new book; Autism Meet Me Who I Am, published by Steiner Books in February 2018. 

In this wisdom-filled look into over ten years of autism research, Lakshmi and Michael take you along on their journey of discovery to hear the laughter, see the smiles, and read the words of children with autism in India. It is through these children that Lakshmi and Michael are able to teach us so much.

It is apparent that Lakshmi and Michael's research became more than merely clinical observations but allowed the authors to become messengers from a magical sensory world where children with autism live. The stories of children with severe autistic symptoms are expressed by their caregivers and eventually for many through their own words.

"To practice Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self…” Thich Nhat Hanh

I recently spoke with Michael and Lakshmi about their book. I could feel how this critical work of healers and messengers is what Hanh described as an expression of their deepest selves.

In a rare glimpse of how work based in love and compassion has transformed the lives of its researchers, Lakshmi and Michael invite you into their world on behalf of the children. This book is an in-depth dive for parents, teachers, physicians, and therapists into the homes and lives of children with autism in India. Using this book as your guide may help you design support and interventions for the children with autism in your life.

The book begins with the stories of the researchers themselves. As with any hero's journey, each was drawn into the lives of these children in different ways. Lakshmi’s story of a physician started with a vision of better care for mothers and children in Hyderabad, India.

Michael’s journey began with his training as a physiotherapist in Melbourne, Australia as he would search to find the missing answers of the mind/body connection in his early classes. His questioning ultimately led him to the field of neurology where he describes his work with patients paralyzed after experiencing strokes. This gave him a rare understanding of patients whose body and mind connection was impaired. 

I find that the book Autism: Meet Me Who I Am is not about fixing children with autism, but rather creating conditions within which these children can bloom and share their messages with the world.

If you would like to learn more about Lakshmi and Michael’s work on behalf of the children, you can listen to an interview with Chris Bamford at Steiner Books, or purchase a copy of the book

What does it mean to grow sustainable children?

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One of the favorite things I have learned with our move to Wyoming is the wisdom from new friends. I love flowers and for most of my adult life have grown flowers and a few herbs to include in my meals.

I remember one Texas neighbor asking if I was growing any food and as I looked around my garden all I saw was flowers. Flowers feed my soul, so yes I guess I was growing food - soul food.

Yesterday, a friend and I launched our gardening block for our children’s learning community. A community brought together by a need to allow our children to experience learning together in a group and also have time to learn through play. We are all homeschooling families who were looking for more. Our class is our evolving answer.

Watching the children intuitively know what to do, being gentle with the seed potatoes, listening intently to our resident garden queen, my friend Jody, was more than just another thing to check off a curriculum checklist. It was a nourishing act of teaching and learning.

We began by reciting the poem Seeds by Molly De Havas, from The Waldorf Book of Poetry. As the children followed the rhythm of the words and read out loud together, they began to form the living breathing connections of learning together.

I told stories of the Irish Potato Famine, the latest discovery in Utah of the Four Corners Potato, and how the famine brought my great-grandmother to America. We talked about biodiversity and how that would prevent famine from happening again.

The group of children ranged in age from 4-10, and they all began to understand how important it is to nurture the ground that will feed you.

Growing food and caring for the earth is primal.
— Ronni Sands

Our lesson was about potatoes, but it was more than that. It planted the seed of paying attention, nurturing the earth that will feed us, and had them asking when the next class would be.

The book Growing Sustainable Children, A Garden Teacher’s Guide was a five-year project of writing down the unique way author Ronnie Sands leads children of all ages through the experience of gardening.

It will teach you, the teacher, to create activities that support child development and guide your self-development. Our class was children, but it was observed by parents who were as drawn into the process as their children - perhaps more so.

Growing Sustainable Children: A Garden Teacher's Guide is a method to bring communities together while supporting the connection between humans and the earth that feed not only our bodies but also our souls.